Monday Matters (May 20, 2019)

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Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.
Amen.

Jesus said: By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

John 15:8-11

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-9

Shield the joyous

The other night, our group completed the day with the Service of Compline. That liturgy includes the prayer included above (Keep watch, etc.). In short order, that prayer covers a wide variety of human experiences, but that night one phrase struck me in particular. After the brief liturgy, I turned to the guy next to me and asked: What do you think it means to shield the joyous? He shrugged. Me too.

I get the other petitions, but why does joy need to be shielded? I can imagine that in our culture, in our political system, in our churches, joy may seem to be in short supply. Remember H.L.Mencken’s definition of a puritan? He said a puritan was someone who is unhappy because someone somewhere is having a good time. So maybe we do need to pray that wherever joy tries to raise its head, it will be shielded, protected, nurtured, preserved.

Think with me this morning about joy. In an op-ed column on May 7, David Brooks compared joy and happiness. He wrote:

Happiness usually involves a victory for the self. Joy tends to involve the transcendence of self. Happiness comes from accomplishments. Joy comes when your heart is in another. Joy comes after years of changing diapers, driving to practice, worrying at night, dancing in the kitchen, playing in the yard and just sitting quietly together watching TV. Joy is the present that life gives you as you give away your gifts.

If joy is indeed a transcendence of self, in our self-centered world, maybe that’s why we need to shield it. Jesus talked about joy at the Last Supper, hardly a laugh riot. He spent his last hours, aware of what was coming on Good Friday, instructing his friends on how to navigate times ahead. In John 15, a portion of which is also included above, he spoke about his desire that his followers know the fullest kind of joy. That was, in fact, why he bothered to show up.

In another stirring summons to joy, St. Paul wrote a letter to the Philippians, sent from a first century prison cell. Stop for a minute and let your imagination picture that cell. I’m sure it was grim, Yet every other word in Paul’s letter is rejoice or joy. (The letter is just four chapters long. If you haven’t read it in a while, take time this week to do so.) The call to joy suggests both transcendence of self and harsh conditions.

More recently, we’ve been treated to a conversation between Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, a record of a week they spent together, captured in The Book of Joy. As I read this book, enjoying their joy, I was mindful of the extraordinary hardship each of these men experienced, how they were so deeply sensitive to the pain of the world, how they were objects of the greatest cruelties human beings and political systems can inflict, how they could easily have been dominated by fear or resentment or rage. Yet as givers, they were able to transcend all that and find a way to joy. 

So this Monday morning, a couple questions:

Where are you now finding joy in your life? The birth of a child? The beauty of creation? The love of friends and family?

And from what does that joy need to be shielded? Anger? Regret? Resentment? Anxiety? Shame? Fear? Busy schedules? Fatigue? Indifference?

I hope that joy is part of your life this Monday morning. Give thanks if that is the case. By God’s grace, may it be shielded, for you and for those whose lives you touch.

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

Contact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org

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Monday Matters (May 13, 2019)

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Before being Christians or Jews or Muslims, before being Americans or Russians or Africans, before begin generals or priests, rabbis or imams, before having visible or invisible disabilities, we are all human beings with hearts capable of loving.

Jean Vanier

Jesus said: I have come to bring them life and to bring it abundantly.

John 10:10

Will you strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being?

from the Service of Holy Baptism

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you-you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Matthew 6:28-34

“We have gotten rusty at being people.”

Dr. Eric Frazer, from Yale University Medical Center, has written a book that includes discussion of mindfulness. He’s the one who said this thing about getting rusty. That’s been on my mind since I heard him make the comment in an interview last week.

He prescribes a cure. He writes about the health-giving benefits of mindfulness. For me, viewing from a faith perspective, he was describing the power of taking time on a daily basis to remember who we are and whose we are.

Last week, I was giving a talk that included discussion of the importance of spiritual practices. A woman in the crowd spoke up, challenging me as she described her heartfelt challenge of finding quiet time as she managed her job, her kids, her parents, her spouse, her life. It was not the season in her life when she had loads of free time for long periods of meditation. There were no long walks in the woods, no hours seated in contemplation over a cup of tea. Nice idea, but that was not in the cards. So what was she to do?

I’m told (and I believe) that one of the impediments to spiritual growth is the busy nature of our lives. How do we fit even the most minimal mindfulness into our routines? In days marked by rancorous partisanship, fueled by unfiltered comments on social media, how do we get less rusty at being people?

Herewith a random assortment of suggestions:

  • Start small. Do what you can, not what you can’t. Be gentle with yourself. There, there.
  • Set your smart phone for a minute of silence in the morning. Or go out on a limb: maybe three times a day. If that works, gradually expand the amount of time. Hint: There’s an app for that.
  • Give thanks for five things each day.
  • Each morning, pick a person you want to pray for throughout that day. Extra credit: Select someone who drives you nuts, pushes your buttons, needs your forgiveness, or watches a different news channel than you do.
  • Write a random, out-of-the-blue daily thank you note to somebody who has had impact on your life.
  • Set an intention for each day, centered on a word. Gratitude. Hope. Service. Kindness, Grace.
  • Look for God-sightings. Where do you see God at work in the people around you?
  • At the end of the day, take two minutes to ask if you have lived into your values.Look for folks who model mindfulness, folks like Jean Vanier, who died this past week, and who is quoted above. In his life singularly dedicated to the dignity of people with severe disabilities, he was someone who was not rusty. Take time today to read his obituary. See how his light can shine light on our lives.

All of which, of course, brings me to Jesus. Was there ever another person who had  a longer to-do list? I mean: Being Messiah? Saving the world? All in three years? Talk about a full plate. Yet the gospels indicate that at key moments, he sought silence and prayer. He sat and talked at length with Nicodemus and the woman at the well, among others. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry, and on occasion, folks wanted him to speed it up.  I’m imagining that a key to his non-anxious presence was that mindfulness of who he was and whose he was. 

May God give us grace this day to follow in his pathway. Because, frankly, we’re kind of rusty at that.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

Contact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org

SAVE THE DATE

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who have worked with RenewalWorks

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Monday Matters (May 6, 2019)

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Cartooning is preaching. And I think we have a right to do some preaching. I hate shallow humor. I hate shallow religious humor, I hate shallow sports humor, I hate shallowness of any kind.

Charles M. Schulz

People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Isaiah 30:19-21

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I Corinthians 13:12-13

The Gospel According to Snoopy

Last week, I was asked to give a presentation on how my goofy cartoons and my faith intersect. It’s fun for me to think about, and I’ve given a talk like this a few times, always being led back to my hero, Charles Schulz, to whom is attributed the above quote about cartooning as preaching.

I had always admired him, but he won my heart in seminary when a colleague gave me one of his cartoons that has been placed prominently in my various offices over the years. Here’s the setup: Snoopy on top of his doghouse at his typewriter. (How did Schulz come up with this?) Charlie Brown approaches, saying “I hear you’re writing a book on theology. You need a good title for a book like that.” Snoopy’s thought bubble, as he smiles smugly: “I have the perfect title. The title: Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong.”

Can you tell why, as preacher and teacher and Christian, I like this cartoon? Think about that question: Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong? It’s an invitation to the virtue of humility for sure. It’s an admission that we all fall short at some point. We are each limited, much as we hate to admit it. It’s a call to compassion, an invitation to be gentle with each other. It’s a challenge to be a learner (another word for disciple) recognizing that we don’t know what we don’t know. It provides motive to offer and ask for forgiveness. It gives opportunity to express transparency and vulnerability, which can be the most effective community builders. All of which could be helpful in our current political and religious climate. All of which might be a welcome dynamic in households, churches, neighborhoods, conversations about the news.

It makes me think about how we humans have been mistaken about so much over the course of history, how we have operated for centuries while being wrong. The folks who wrote the book of Genesis imagined that the sky above was really like a big dome, with the waters of chaos above as well as below. Scientists were punished for positing the earth might not be the center of the universe. Explorers thought the world was flat. Lewis and Clark we’re convinced that they could follow the Missouri River to the Pacific, so they ended up canoeing the mountains. (I commend a book called Canoeing the Mountains, by Tod Bolsinger. It’s a book about discipleship, actually.)

We’ve been wrong about stuff that has caused great suffering. Looking in the collective rear-view mirror, we now see that we have been wrong about slavery, about gender roles, about other religions, about identity and orientation, all of which has had tragic implications, inflicting injury on people who differ in all kinds of ways. It makes me wonder what we’re wrong about now, and how future generations will look back on us and think: How could we have possibly thought that? How could we have acted that way? Or not acted.

On the same day I gave the talk on cartooning, I gave a homily at a service observing the feast of St. Philip and St. James’. One of the readings from the day came from Isaiah 30. (Included above) It suggests that in the journey of faith, we may not really know what we’re doing or where we are headed, but it is a call to trust. The Lord says to the faithful: Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Later in the Bible, in St. Paul’s famous hymn about love, the apostle notes that we now see through a glass darkly, that we know in part. In other words, we could be wrong.

All of this is to say that righteousness is not about being right. How could it be when we’re wrong so much of the time? Rather, it is about being rightly related to a God who invites us into deeper relationship, and who speaks over our shoulder saying: This is the way, walk in it. This week, how might we explore that life of humility, vulnerability, transparency? How might we open ourselves so that we might be learners, mindful that we don’t know what we don’t know?

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

Contact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org

SAVE THE DATE

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Monday Matters (April 29, 2019)

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By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:35

Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.

I John 4:20

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

I John 4:11

It makes no sense to take the name of Christian and not cling to Christ. Jesus is not some magic charm to wear like a piece of jewelry we think will give us good luck. He is the Lord. His name is to be written on our hearts in such a powerful way that it creates within us a profound experience of His peace and a heart that is filled with His praise.

William Wilberforce

Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.

Billy Sunday

Real Christians

I keep seeing a billboard that reads: Real Christians Follow Jesus’ Teaching. I’m taken with the phrase and wonder who sponsored the ad. I also wonder whether the sponsors would think I was a real Christian.

I’ve had a couple opportunities to think about this lately. The candidacy of Mayor Pete Buttigieg has raised the issue of what makes a real Christian. One commentator (Erick Erickson) who I’m guessing won’t vote for the mayor, has questioned the mayor’s faith, especially his reading of the Bible. The commentator notes that because Mayor Pete is an Episcopalian, he might not actually “understand Christianity more than superficially. Episcopalians are shallow Christians.”

Mr. Erickson may be right as I look at my own heart, and am struck by the depth of my own shallowness. But it’s been my privilege to know so many Episcopalians who know God and follow Jesus and are filled with the Spirit. I wish Mr. Erickson could know them.

Looking at the question from another angle, I recall conversations with one woman who responded to the RenewalWorks inventory. She bristled at some of the questions and said she preferred to “self-identify” as Episcopalian, not Christian. A part of me gets her point because the association with Christians in our culture is pretty grim. When people outside the church looked at the church in the first days, they said “See how they love one another.” Now, surveys indicate that people might say “See what hypocrites they are. See how judgmental they are. See how they fight with each other. See how they are captive of a particular political agenda.” Anyone who has hung around church for a while, and especially anyone who has gotten involved in sausage-making governance can probably provide examples. 

At the same time, my own experience of the Episcopal Church is that it offers me an authentic way to be a follower of Jesus, for which I believe I will be eternally grateful. My journey to the Episcopal Church was personally salvific.

So what’s a follower of Jesus to do? For starters, remember that Jesus nowhere uses the term “Christian.” His first followers who met in small communities described themselves as people of the way. I suspect we’d all be better off if we’d stuck with that name. Jesus said to his disciples “By this shall people know that you are my disciples if you have love one for another.” Not by your doctrine or your stand on social issues or the name of your group or how you do liturgy or the way your interpret scripture.

Jesus’ own ministry was marked by harsh judgment primarily directed at religious people. He said “Not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven.” He told the parable of sheep and goats (Matthew 25) and said that those who welcomed the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned would inherit the kingdom. Those who ignored those in need would be excluded.

Finally, Jesus seemed pretty expansive in his understanding of who lies within the range of God’s grace. A Syro-phoenician woman, who apparently expanded Jesus’ vision of his own ministry. The Samaritan woman at the well, who engaged Jesus on the subject of worship. A Roman Centurion who Jesus described as having more faith than anyone he’d met in Israel. A child who understood what the kingdom of heaven is all about when adults were dense. You get the point.

In current discourse about who is a real Christian, columnist Cal Thomas (see column on April 8) denied that Christianity was inclusive. He said Christianity is about exclusion for those who refuse its central message of repentance and conversion. I think he’s doing what we all do, reading scripture selectively, reading it in a way that serves our own purpose and, in this case, is anything but good news. 

Which leads to this insight which Jesus gives: Why get all worked up about the speck in somebody else’s eye when you’ve got a honking timber going through your own? When as a kid I was scrapping with my siblings, my grandmother would say: “Take heed to yourself,” which is somewhere in the Bible. Not a bad word for all of us who wonder who is a real Christian. Maybe we don’t need to worry about that. Maybe we should let God worry about that. While God is sorting that out, maybe we can direct our energy elsewhere, like figuring out what we should do to live into Jesus’ call: “By this shall all people know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” We all have some growth edges there.

Our church would be in much better shape if that became our singular focus.

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

Contact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org

SAVE THE DATE

Leading for Discipleship:
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who have worked with RenewalWorks

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Monday Matters (April 22, 2019)

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The following prayer requests appear in the Good Friday Liturgy (page 279 in the Book of Common Prayer) On this Monday in Easter Week, these requests offer a roadmap for the work of Easter:

Let us pray for all who have not received the Gospel of Christ;

For those who have never heard the word of salvation

For those who have lost their faith

For those hardened by sin or indifference

For the contemptuous and the scornful

For those who are enemies of the cross of Christ and persecutors of his disciples

For those who in the name of Christ have persecuted others

That God will open their hearts to the truth and lead them to faith and obedience.

We’ve got Easter work to do

For me, the celebration of Easter was (and remains) awesome. I don’t mean to be Debby Downer, but I’m still thinking about the Good Friday Liturgy. I was struck by a few prayers in that service, included above. In fact, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them, as I consider the state of our church, as I think about how people come to faith, or not. In my heart, I think Easter has something to say about those prayers. They provide some Easter work to do. Let’s look at those petitions one by one:

We pray for those who have never heard the word of salvation: I remember going to see the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. I sat behind a family, two young teenage children with parents explaining, “That’s Jesus. That’s Judas. That’s Mary.” The kids apparently had no idea about the story. I taught a confirmation class to a bunch of teenagers and on the first day, to gauge level, asked them to name the two parts of the Bible. Crickets. Too often I hear people associate faith with rules, with judgment. How might people associate faith with grace, with inclusion? We have Easter work, teaching in a culture that is increasingly unfamiliar with the old, old story of Jesus and his love.

We pray for those who have lost their faith: A report came out last week that said that the fastest growing group in terms of religious affiliation in our nation are those people with no religious affiliation (atheists, agnostics, those self-describing as spiritual not religious). The percentage of population in this category now equals number of Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, all three groups at 23%. Mainline protestant affiliation continues to plummet, now at 11%. Many of the non-affiliated folks were raised in Catholic churches, in evangelical churches, in mainline congregations. I call them the spiritually wounded. Religious refugees. Often, I totally see why they left. We have Easter work, healing work to do.

We pray for those hardened by sin and indifference: In our research into the spiritual vitality of Episcopal churches (sometimes called the frozen chosen), about a quarter of Episcopal congregations can be described as complacent. One such church, with a wink and a nod, said they were changing their tagline. They would now be called, “St. Swithin’s: Spiritually shallow and fine with that.” We have Easter work to do, work of engagement of the heart.

We pray for the contemptuous and the scornful: I think of how social media has affected our discourse about everything, including religion and politics. People who communicate this way (including yours truly) often write things online with contempt and scorn, things they would never say in person. We have Easter work to do, in how we speak the truth in love to each other, while respecting the dignity of every human being, a thing we pledge to do in baptism.

We pray for those who are enemies of the cross of Christ and persecutors of his disciples: So we pray this morning for all Christians suffering for the sake of the gospel, especially for all those who on Easter Day 2019 lost their lives or lost their loved ones in Sri Lanka, as we have prayed for those shot at a bible study in a Charleston church, or the young girl who lost her life in Charlottesville standing against hatred, or those churches which were recent targets of arson. We have Easter work to do, supporting those who face persecution.

For those who in the name of Christ have persecuted others: The brilliant preacher, author, priest Barbara Brown Taylor was recently interviewed by CNN. She talked about how some Christians depict her as an outcast pastor. She calls them the true believers. “True believers are among the meanest people I’ve ever met.” In my own experience, some of the folks who give the most lip service to grace are the most judgmental people I’ve ever met. We have Easter work to do, letting compassion be our highest value.

The Good Friday prayers conclude with this request:
That God will open their hearts to the truth, and lead them to faith and obedience:  God opening hearts. That is Easter work, God’s work. As the stone was rolled away, the grave opened, so the message of resurrection says that hearts can be changed. We get to participate in that work, which begins with asking how our own hearts need to change before we go to work on anybody else’s.

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

Contact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org

Monday Matters (April 15, 2019)

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A prayer for Monday in Holy Week (a.k.a., today)

Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other that the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Philippians 2:5-11 (read in many churches yesterday)

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself  and became obedient to the point of death–  even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name  that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Which way?

The first Christians were not called Christians. They were called people of the way. I wonder if we might not be better off if that name had stuck. No prospect of the frozen chosen with a name like that.

What do I like about the name? It presumes movement, growth and transformation. We hear about it as our Presiding Bishop talks about our church as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement. We’re part of a movement, folks. We don’t stay put. Pope Francis preached a sermon in which he said that there was no such thing as a stationary Christian, that a Christian is meant to walk or move. That movement is actually part of our healthy identity. We see it in our liturgy as the gospel, the story of Jesus is moved to the center of the people, and as we are moved to come forward to say yes to the bread and wine.

Jesus himself said: “I am the way.”

So which way do we go? That is in many ways the question of Holy Week. The prayer crafted for the Monday in Holy Week (see above), asks that we may find that the way of the cross is the way of life and peace. Paradox alert. Think with me as we begin this Holy Week about what the way of the cross looks like, and how it could possibly also be the way of life and peace.

The way of the cross includes the journey that went from that raucous Palm Sunday procession, with Jesus’ high approval ratings helping him make his way through Jerusalem streets. As we read yesterday, that festive parade soon becomes a crowd pressing for prosecution and execution. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus makes his way from the head of the table to kneel at the feet of disciples. Jesus washes those feet. A big move. Jesus makes his way to the garden where he prays for deliverance from what is to come. In a lesson for me about my prayers, Jesus finds that his prayer is not answered in the way he might have wanted. He makes his way to the hard wood of the cross, where he hangs between heaven and earth, stretching out arms of love to draw us all into his saving embrace. Do you see how the whole week involves movement, from life to death to life?

So what do we make of the way of the cross? How do we walk in that way? Is it a way of humility? Is it a way of service? Is it a way that moves toward confrontation with religious and political power of the day? Is it a way that knows grief and loss, that does not hide from the pain of the world? Is it a way of compassion and sacrifice? Is it a way that extends forgiveness, even and especially to those who don’t deserve it or even ask for it? Is it a way of life and peace?

However you observe Holy Week (and I urge you to dive into as many liturgies as you can. It’ll just deepen the joy of Easter), think about the way of the cross as a way of life. You do have other choices, the gospels tell us. You can choose the way of Pilate, entitled indifference. You can choose the way of Peter, bluster giving way to cowardly denial. You can choose the way of Judas, grasping at your own agenda. You can choose the way of most of the disciples, and just check out, hopping on the first Greyhound out of Jerusalem.

Or we can ask: What does the way of the cross mean for us in this Holy Week? What does that mean in the weeks that follow? May God’s grace allow us to see it as a way of life and peace. 

Apparently our world stands in need of that kind of way. 

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

Contact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org

Monday Matters (April 8, 2019)

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Pray these prayers as you prepare for Holy Week

A preface for the Eucharistic prayer in Lent:
You bid your faithful people cleanse their hearts, and prepare with joy for the Paschal feast (i.e., Easter); that, fervent in prayer and in works of mercy, and renewed by your Word and Sacraments, they may come to the fullness of grace which you have prepared for those who love you.
A Prayer for Monday in Holy Week:
Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other that the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
A Prayer for Tuesday in Holy Week:
O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
A Prayer for Wednesday in Holy Week:
Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

What makes holy week holy? 

In just a few days, we’ll begin our journey through the week at the heart of the Christian faith. We call this week holy, and the question I want to pose this morning: What makes it so?

We talk about holy places, thin spaces where the distance between heaven and earth diminishes. That can often be churches, or particular corners of churches. A yoga mat can prove to be sacred, set apart. A walk in the woods or on the beach can be holy. A certain chair in a home may be holy.

There are public places that convey holiness. For me, the Lincoln Memorial is one of those, as the gracious, wise, healing words of Lincoln’s second inaugural address are carved into stone. My recent visit to the motel/museum where Martin Luther King lost his life filled me with a sense of holiness. As visitors filed by the small motel room, conversation stopped. We were on holy ground.

We talk about holy times. Next week, for instance. In my experience, that sense of holiness only comes as I pay attention to it, which includes preparing for it. I grew up in a tradition that made a big deal about Easter, but didn’t do a whole lot to observe the days leading up to Easter. My migration to the Episcopal Church taught me that the Easter experience, the power of the message of resurrection, is deepened by observance of the week that precedes. I get glimmers of why that week gets set apart, why it’s holy.

During that week, it’s not like everything else stops (thought that’s a tempting approach). It means that on some level, varying from year to year, I attend to the reason for the season, attend to the message of the various liturgies that unfold during this rich week, in ways great and small.

There’s Palm Sunday, with the spiritual whiplash that begins with the grand Jerusalem parade echoing with hosannas. That grand procession turns quickly to Jesus’ arrest and trial, torture and execution, a reminder that public opinion can shift pretty quickly. We are nothing if not fickle.

There are the first three days of the week, each with their thematic contribution to the story. Check out those stories we read each year. Why do you think we read them?

There is Maundy Thursday, with takes its name from the commandment (mandatum) to show love, to be of service, reflected in the institution of the eucharist and the washing of the disciples’ feet. What does that holy night teach us about putting faith to work in the world? There is Good Friday, which always poses the question of why we call this Friday good. There is Holy Saturday, a day to note that grief often calls simply for silence. All of that gets us ready for Easter beginning with the Great Vigil of Easter, arguably the most awesome liturgy in our Prayer Book (IMHO). All of it can be holy, set apart.

And all of it offers a window into the wholly holy mystery of God’s love at work in the world, God’s love overcoming the worst that the world can dish out. All of it points to the mystery that in the face of human denial, betrayal, violence, abuse, duplicity, cowardice, callousness, in the face of all of that (a gracious plenty), love wins.

That’s what we celebrate in Holy Week. So how might you and I prepare for this week? I can’t say what that will be for you. I’m not sure this year what it will be for me. But God knows. So maybe we can use this last week of Lent to ask God to help us each to experience this holy week as holy.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

Contact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org

Monday Matters (April 1, 2019)

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The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14
(New Revised Standard Version)

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

John 1:14 
(The Message) 

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11
(New Revised Standard Version)

Other Worlds

My Lenten journey this year took me to Hawaii. Tough assignment but I was willing to answer the call. That’s the kind of guy I am. On a cloudless day we flew for hours over the Pacific to get to the islands, tiny specks of land in a vast expanse. As I looked out the window of the plane, I wondered what was going on below all that blue surface. It was a mystery, another world, and it led me to think of other other-worlds.

I’m a news hound, with my own political perspective, reinforced by 24/7 news sources that ratify my opinions. I recognize in our partisan culture that there are other news sources supporting other points of view marked by equal intensity. There is another world out there, one that views the world from a wholly different point of view than mine. 

I grew up in a tight church community, part of a denomination that represented about .0001% of Christians in the world. It was all consuming, in some respects inspiring, in some respects toxic. (I suspect that’s true of many religious traditions.) In that culture, we believed we had the answers. Nobody else really did, bless their hearts. My own faith journey has been a matter of discovering other worlds found in other expressions of Christianity and other faith traditions. As I reflect on the intensity of the religious culture of my youth, I wonder about other intense religious cultures. I may never know what it is like to swim in those streams. They may never know what it is like to swim in mine.

As I reflect on my privileged life, I know there are billions of people who live in communities that have been denied the kind of privilege I take for granted. I can’t pretend to know what that is like. I think of the older woman we saw several times in Hawaii, pushing a stroller with all her earthly possessions held in garbage bags, moving along the shoulder of the highway in the hot sun. Appearances indicated she had no home except maybe the woods. I wondered about her story, as daughter, as sibling, perhaps as parent, perhaps as spouse, not to mention, as beloved child of God. I wondered what it was like to live in her world. It was hard to imagine.

Did I mention Hawaii? I was honored to offer a presentation at the annual diocesan convention. Honored with just one hitch. I gave a talk at 11am on a Saturday morning. I looked at the schedule and realized that at 10am, a certain Michael Curry was speaking. I wondered if I was having an anxiety dream, like taking a test for a course I never attended. I felt like changing the title of my talk to this: “And now for something completely different.”

But it was a grand gift to hear him. A part of his gift: he always speaks of love. I’ve heard him talk a few times, but this question was new for me. He asked: Do you know what the opposite of love is? I’ve heard that the opposite of love is hate. That the opposite is fear. He said that the opposite of love was self-centeredness. It’s exemplified, when someone shows me a group photo, one in which I am included. Guess who I look for first?

As I pondered that big blue ocean, its surface hinting at another world, I thought of Jesus as one who entered another world. I thought of Jesus as one who listened to the Samaritan woman at the well, who invited himself to lunch with scoundrel Zacchaeus, who called Matthew, the hated tax collector to be one of his followers, who ate with Pharisees and prostitutes. I thought of Jesus who calls us to go into the world, not to make everyone just like us, but to serve, to share, to show grace, which may well begin with wondering, listening and learning.

The sin of self-centeredness refuses that adventure. (After all, ego is an acronym. It stands for edging God out.) It’s the pride that claims a corner on the truth, that claims with complacency that there is nothing more to learn. It’s the hubris of refusing conversation. It fails to admit we don’t know what we don’t know.

Jesus points to another way, and in the end, to another world. The entry point? Love, compassion, listening, learning. Step into that other world this week. It may be a small step, just putting your toe in. Or you might want to jump right in, taking the plunge.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

Contact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org

Monday Matters (March 25, 2019)

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In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

Exodus 3

Yes

This morning, I’m thinking of a wonderful elderly parishioner, member of a church in which I served early in my ministry. A wordsmith, her wise insights were made all the more engaging because they were delivered with a beautiful Virginia accent. That woman could stretch out a simple word into a rich, melodic series of syllables. We talked often about liturgy and literature, but what I remember most was what she would say at the communion rail as she received the wafer in outstretched hands. Instead of saying “Amen” as many do, she simply said “Yes.” But that sweet yes went on for a long time. “Yay-yeh-esssss” or something like that.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, said yes. We celebrate today the Feast of the Annunciation, recalling the story of the angel who visited the young girl who would become the mother of our Lord, theotokos, God bearer. The story from Luke’s gospel is included above. While I rarely remember sermons (including my own), I do remember a sermon preached on the fourth Sunday of Advent years ago. The preacher posited that maybe the angel visited a few other Galilean homes, approached a few other Nazareth girls with invitation to participate in the special work of the Holy Spirit. Maybe those other young ladies said “No thanks” or “Not me” or “This call is definitely a wrong number” or “I don’t see this as my career path.”

Mary, the mother of Jesus, said yes. It was not without posing the most logical of questions: “How can this be?” Yet in short order, Mary responds: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” In other words, she said yes. With that answer she changed history. She changed your life and mine.

Yesterday, on the third Sunday of Lent, we read about the call that came to Moses via the burning bush. Along with the story of the Annunciation, this story seems to be a key point in scripture, perhaps in the narrative of human history. Moses in the wilderness (We all know about wilderness, don’t we?) is tending his flock, minding his business, when the call comes to him through that burning bush. Scripture tells us that Moses said “I must turn aside and see what this is all about.” That turning aside is huge. What if Moses saw this thing and said: “What was in that soup I had?” or “Have I been out in the sun too long?” or “I need to consult a doctor or a therapist”or “I can’t be bothered.” Instead, Moses approaches that holy presence and says “Here am I.” With that answer he changed history. He changed your life and mine.

Again and again in scripture, God calls ordinary human beings who often say: “This call must be a wrong number.” Often they seem to try to clue God in on why the Holy One is a terrible recruiter: “I’m too young. I’m no public speaker. I’m a sinful human being.” By way of contrast, each in his or her way, Moses and Mary say yes, again to great consequence.

We each have vocation. God calls each one of us. Think today about where and how the call might be coming to you. Are we listening for that call? Are we listening to it? Do we need to turn aside, or do we just keep going? Do we ask “How can this be?” and let it end there? Or are we willing to say yes?

The yes can be a simple action. It may make no discernible shift in world history. It could be a turning aside from daily routine to share God’s love. It could be outstretched hands at the communion rail. It could be the prayer: “Be it unto me according to your will.” It could have consequence we’ll never see in our lifetime.

But it begins with yes, to the God who in Christ says yes to us. Let this Lent be about saying yes.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

Contact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org

Monday Matters (March 11, 2019)

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‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

-Matthew 25

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving neighbor as yourself?

from the Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer

Meeting Jesus this Lent

As we come to the first full week of Lent, perhaps you’ve decided to give something up for the season, something challenging or something less so. Maybe it’s something with remarkable specificity. One young person I knew gave up blue m&m’s.

Perhaps as alternative or addition, you have decided to take on a spiritual discipline, a way to grow your faith, since the word “Lent” derives from an old English word for spring. Lent is a season for growth. It’s not too late to add something to your practice this season.

This morning, I wanted to draw your attention to a Lenten lectionary, a list of readings for every day in Lent. You won’t find it in the Prayer Book, but you can find it on lectionarypage.net  (among other places). You might want to use it as a guide. Take five, ten, thirty minutes to read one or all of the readings each day. See what they say about your own spiritual state, your own spiritual journey.

Today’s gospel reading from that lectionary offers a challenging parable from the Gospel of Matthew. Here’s the set up. A king gathers all nations before him, and divides those people as a shepherd would divide sheep from goats. The basis of distinction? How those people treated each other, and especially how they treated those in greatest need. The king speaks of how sheep-like people fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, pastored the sick, visited prisoners. The king said that when those sheep-like folk did that, they were really serving him. Accordingly, they met with commendation.

Flip side, the goats were those who failed to address those needs. Accordingly, those goats met with condemnation.

There’s much that is remarkable about this parable. One of the features that always strikes me is the element of surprise for sheep and goats. The sheep who served those in need are surprised when the king said that their ministry to the marginalized was as if it had been done to him. Sheep are surprised. It’s clear that the sheep were not doing their ministry in order to win favor with the king. Similarly, the goats had no idea they were dissing the king when they dissed those in need.

Truth be told, there is a bit of sheep and goat in each one of us, but take this reading for this Monday in Lent to see how it can help your faith grow. Look for the opportunity to see Christ, to meet the king, in those in greatest need. It’s something that our baptismal covenant encourages us to do. (See the promise included above). And it can be challenging, because Christ often comes very well disguised. Nadia Bolz-Weber, slightly profane evangelist puts it this way: I think God is wanting to be known. And my experience of God wanting to be known is much more in the person who is annoying me at the moment rather than in the sunset.

This season, guided by scripture, including today’s parable, perhaps you can give up your reticence to reach out to someone in need. Maybe you do that out of fear or sloth or focus on self. Give that up.

And perhaps you can take on some ministry of service. We don’t have to look very far to find someone in need. Maybe just across the dining room table or in the next cubicle. In doing so, it may well be that we meet Christ. You may well find that we are serving the king.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

Contact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org